Theatre Review: ‘Tarzan The Stage Musical’ at Atlanta Lyric

Photos by Cayce Calloway Photography

Atlanta Lyric Theatre is presenting a colorful, delightful production of “Tarzan The Stage Musical,” directed by Robert Adams, with music direction by Chris Brent Davis, running through June 24.

About 100 years ago Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote a series of adventure novels about a man called Tarzan who was raised from childhood by gorillas. The public was fascinated and Hollywood soon came calling, and Tarzan has become an iconic, almost mythical figure.

The Lyric’s “Tarzan” is based on the 1999 Disney animated film, which became a Broadway musical in 2006 with music and lyrics by Phil Collins and book by David Henry Hwang; the show received mixed reviews but ran for over a year and has played in several countries and various regional theatres.

I realize there are those who may look askance at a musical “Tarzan,” but I find it a perfectly charming, romantic summer entertainment for all ages; and I assure you that Atlanta Lyric takes their musicals very seriously. That’s all they do (musicals), and they have spared no expense in creating an exotic jungle ambience that’s quite breathtaking. The scenic design is by Daniel Pattillo.

There’s plenty of flying, and not only Tarzan swinging on a vine; others take to the air as well, and these effects are carefully created and executed for visual dazzle and also for safety. There is no net.

You probably know the basic story. A baby boy’s parents are killed by jungle animals, but not before they constructed a hidden tree house. Tarzan is adopted by Kala (Leslie Bellair) and her mate Kerchak (Marcus Hopkins-Turner), who both admire their human infant son (they are gorillas), especially Kala (“You’ll Be in My Heart”). Ms. Bellair is one of the city’s best singers.

But as the child grows into Young Tarzan (Vinny Montague), Kerchak begins to distance himself from the boy, for he has memories of past encounters with humans that are not pleasant. Kala, however, remains devoted and loving. And Tarzan is befriended by the lighthearted Terk (Commodore Primous), who endeavors to teach him the ways of gorillas (“Who Better Than Me”). Both Mr. Montague and Mr. Primous offer fine performances.

Soon a lovely young English naturalist named Jane (Alison Brannon Wilhoit) and her dad (Steve Hudson) make their way into the jungle, accompanied by the sinister Clayton (Hayden Rowe). By this time Tarzan is a dashing, full-grown young man (Stanley Allyn Owen), and as you either guess or remember, he and Jane are mutually fascinated by each other. The fascination grows (“Different”); romance is in the air. They also both sing beautifully.

The choreography is by Cindy Mora Reiser; the costume designer is Amanda Edgerton West. The wig designer (and this is important) is George Deavours. Sound design is by Preston Goodson. The lush music is prerecorded, but done so masterfully one hardly knows the difference.

I must say there is a warmth from this cast, an ineluctable esprit de corps that is most winning. I commend director Robert Adams, for I assume he had something to do with this. Or perhaps the stars just aligned correctly. I also applaud Mr. Owen’s performance, for Tarzan must combine intelligence, naiveté, and courage to win us (and Jane) over, and this he does.

Now you can say that “Tarzan” is predictable, a bit stereotypical, and all sorts of unkind things; if you do, you’re in danger of becoming a serious fuddy-duddy. Instead, you can go and enjoy a delectable summertime show. I suggest the latter.

For tickets, visit atlantalyric.com.

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